Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Devil is in the Details

As you already know, cooking has made me a more creative and organized person. I've made a few more complicated dishes which leaves me wondering why I cannot simply boil and peel an egg.

I learned from my Mom (after the fact) that older eggs work best for boiling and peeling. I bought cage free eggs but I don't think it's just the age of the egg that's hurting me here. I think it's the heating/cooling procedures.

That's why I asked my Grandma to boil the last batch for me. Then I took them home and refrigerated them. They froze. It was bad. Eggs apparently freeze at lower temperatures. My deviled eggs looked like poo. But I made a curried deviled eggs recipe and they actually tasted just fine.

The recipe required a few items that you don't find in your average egg: lime, yogurt (I used Greek) and curry. Greek yogurt is a tremendous replacement for a lot of fatty foods. The protein content alone is worth the substitution.

This left me curious about how creative I could get with deviled eggs. So today, I formulated a few recipes that I will, at a later date, experiment with until perfected.

These are the egg delicacies I have created so far:

Green (Deviled) Eggs and Ham

Loaded Baked Potato

Greek Eggs

The Chicken Be For the Egg

I can't tell you all my secrets, but I plan to use Underwood spreads in several of the recipes. You probably don't know the name right off hand, but I'm sure you've seen the symbol:

If I could pick out a pointless job, it would be to read the crap posted on the websites of various companies.   Today I learned how B&G Foods is wrapped up with MIT, food science, and the history of potted meats. Fascinating, I tell you. 

I picked up a few books that mention Underwood deviled ham and potted meats. You'll recognize The Virginian and another best seller from a few years ago The Poisonwood Bible

But I couldn't read up on deviled ham without thinking of a story I wrote four years ago.

I'll keep you posted on how all the devilish cooking is panning out. 

Devilish Whisper

"The devil's voice is sweet to hear." --Steven King

The jeep came to an abrupt halt onto a gravel-laden half circle, the opposite side of the winding road. You could miss it if it weren't something to expect from having traveled here before.

He had, half a dozen times, being a rugged man, fan of nature and of beast. The month was May, welcoming in the proverbial flowers her April cousin had paved the way for with a spattering of intermittent showers.

And the earth had showered this morning, very early, as had he, welcoming in his expecting wife and enjoying the intimacy she provided even as her belly grew.

The driver's side door opened and a weathered and worn Doc Marten boot, size 12, hit the dirt, extinguishing the half-smoked butt that had just been discarded by its owner. He knew his destination was just around the corner, yet he drew it from the crumpled soft pack he may as well have left in the passenger's seat instead of the glove compartment.

It was habitual. There were times on the road like this he smoked his Camels by the caravan: he didn't necessarily know where the train was going, just that he would suddenly arrive.

The ipod was a gift, a thoughtful one, but his marriage to the jeep had lasted for over 10 years, the affair only growing more passionate with signs of rust and wear, and their routines together were not only hard but undesirable to break, so the ipod lay dormant underneath the crumpled Camels and the antique lighter.

He had pulled the heavy suitcase of c.d.s from underneath his seat and could choose them without hardly looking as they enjoyed their position on the passenger's seat. When he rode with his family or friends, he might allow the songs to play in session: now alone, he made his selections in a manner that may have appeared finicky and agitated to others, only making melodic harmony with his own frustrated pattern of emotions.

A young man on his sports bike was just leaving. He peered through his helmet at the visitor and nodded in acknowledgment. The visitor peered back, a stocky 6'1, dirty blond hair pulled back into a pony tail, give or take the tangled wisps of hair yanked out by the jeep's open windows. He situated them behind his ears and tucked his cigarettes into his back right pocket.

And the younger girl who climbed behind her partner starred in his direction before placing herself on the narrowed seat and applying her helmet: he was strong in appearance, this stranger, a shadow on his face as rough as his hands must have felt, so she fantasized as she hugged the slender frame of the boy in front of her. There was a longing inside of her to know his breed--handsome and hung out to dry--as she sped away behind one of the many males she would use to climb that fantasy ladder.

He had hopes of being alone today, placing his hands on his hips and leaning backwards. His back reminded him that he was much older than the number his age defined, if not for the years of construction in his younger days or the bar room brawls endured throughout the evenings of escape, then because of the same construction and brawling that remained in his own soul as he seeped in his surroundings.

The valley was laid out before him, a post card or a postscript, all one and the same as he was in the habit of searching for a message from somewhere beyond these tangible hillsides. Years ago, he looked for a sign and gave it a time limit, then shoved it in the glove compartment along with the smoke and fire, relinquishing all notions of an afterlife to eternal damnation.

A car containing a middle-aged couple from Pennsylvania rounded the corner, disrupting his thoughts and the dusty gravel beneath it. He cursed under his breath and started down the hill, thanking an illusion that the over-pass was not too steep.

He situated himself upon a log, surrounded by a motley crew: there were weeds amongst wildflowers, aged trees beside saplings, and peppered throughout the natural recipe the evidence of mankind. There lay a beer can, a candy wrapper, a pattern of debris one would hope not to imagine in such a setting, yet had almost come to expect.

He fingered the muddy candy wrapper that read,"Snickers Satisfies." He considered the new "Hungry?" campaign and concluded that whoever discarded the fading shell must have visited here many moons ago. Then his thoughts shifted, shaded by a simple, multi-million dollar jingle.

He was satisfied when his first son was born, around the same time he pursued his treasured Wrangler. The day they discovered the sex he prioritized the purchase that would take them to the same places he and his father had journeyed together. This was not his childhood home, but it was not his duty to provide the same surroundings as much as it was his responsibility to reestablish an identical, paternal pattern--to fill in for his own, somehow, a replica of the knot--now in his stomach--that ties itself between a father and a son.

There had been a satisfaction in his bride and now, more so, the pride he owned in the loyalty he provided, despite the side-ways glances of many a lady behind leery boys on bikes.

Perhaps it was his duty to establish the same surroundings, although not from a car seat strapped in the back of a vehicle. In his mind he saluted his father as he kissed his wife goodnight or as he stumbled in drunk from a night with his fellows, having chosen not to find himself on another woman's sofa, only his own.

Yet there was this hunger...

He dropped the wrapper and wiped his fingers on his blue jeans, then leaned forward to balance his forearms on his knees. Peering at the litter of beer bottles before him, he remembered his right back pocket.

It wasn't until the cigarette reached his lips that he remembered the lighter, growing warmer inside its compartment.

Cursing again, more because of his habit of forgetfulness than the pilgrimage up hill, he almost resigned himself to a premature departure.

The couple was still present, holding hands and beaming at the view.

"Isn't it beautiful?" Immune to the power he possessed over young ladies on motorbikes, the woman, who obviously moved to Pennsylvania judging from her pasty-white Minnesota accent, eyed the stranger with an expectation of reciprocated delight.

He smiled fiercely and waved, then turned to his jeep and mumbled,"Don't look down, bitch," and laughed, not at the statement, but only his own twisted sense of humor. He dared to sit among the rubbish and enjoy the reality of the comprehensive scenery.

Cigarette lit, lighter in breast pocket, he descended again to rest by the wayside.

The water bottle he kicked down the incline read "Pure Life" which held irony as he had made plans for the container to graduate into an ash tray.

He may have been willing to accompany the trash and even utilize it if need be, but he would not take blame for adding to the contamination.

The ash sizzled as the abandoned bottle's owner must have added it to the man-made mosaic recently. That, he thought, or it too had showered with him this morning.

He stole his last drag and dropped the exhausted butt in the bottle and gave it a shake. He rested it behind him on the other side of the log and joined his hands together again to rest upon his knees.

His eyes wandered rapidly back and forth between the mountains and valleys below. The sky matched the blue-green of his eyes. The rolling clover below took him back into the arms of his aging Irish grandfather, who always called him "lad," as did his father. They had both passed away, to reside in his memory alone, sharing that burial plot with the squint in his eyes when he laughed and the same painfully obvious trait in his youngest son.

It was the only sign he acknowledged now as he bitterly regretted ever asking for evidence elsewhere.

And last September, he hooked his arm around his wife and kissed her yellow hair as they escaped the family to enjoy the same scene. She believed in something, albeit unnamed, and leaned into his side as the golden glory of the autumn changes mirrored her mane of hair. She had her own demons that sometimes hosted parties for their neighbors next door.

And as they rocked together that night in perfect unison, as mystery relented, giving way to familiarity, something just as inexplicable as the portrait before him knit itself together in its mother's womb. In this moment he considered that burden of shifting his father's bones for the third time in his life.

He got up to relieve himself against a tree, hoping the bitch from Minnesota might peek down and really take in some scenery.

He laughed--a rapid, raspy chuckle that matched everything about him. As his stream started to wane, he shook himself and zipped his fly. He noted something winking at him from below, not the sort of debris that had already blended itself into the scenery. He bent to retrieve it.

"What the fuck?"

He remembered the small cans from his grandmother's pantry. The white labels stuck out among the red, saucy labels picturing the man in the white chef's hat granny purchased just for him. He wasn't sure why, but he never liked the looks of those wicked, little jars.

The sun and rain had done a number on the lettering, but apparently the little red devil had been buried face down. He smiled, pitchfork upturned, dancing a little jig and delightfully doing unimaginable damage to the poor, afflicted ham. This was an older label, as this devil looked a little too Halloween and not enough cartoon for the holder's liking.

And then he did something that would make him feel silly later on that day, and for days to come.

At first, he thought it might be too wet, but as it happened, neither rain nor urine seemed to affect it. He reached into his breast pocket and traded the deviled ham wrapper in his right hand for the lighter in his left.

"Burn in hell, mother fucker," he whispered to himself, intending the statement to sound reminiscent of his advice to the oblivious woman on the ledge above. He noted his failure as the attempt at humor evaporated from his lips.

The lighter ignited the paper in a flash and spread in just such a manner. The impassioned flame consumed the paper label in a solid second, down to his forefinger and thumb, singeing his skin as he quickly snapped the remaining chard, like he was packing chewing tobacco in a can.

"God damn it!" The exclamation was much louder than he expected, no prisoner to pain, and echoed after him, ricocheting back from the scenic escape.

But the devil had vanished, unlike his neighbor upstairs.

"You ok down there?" The stranger's face showed genuine concern, never acknowledging the former or the latter curses.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm ok. I just slipped a little." And in his humanity he sheepishly recognized his deep desire not to have been seen in his moment of exposure.

Recovering quickly, he composed himself and bypassed the log, lighting his last cigarette and making a new path through the refuse and fallen foliage.

He nodded at the couple, now returning to their car. Back in the driver's seat, he gripped the steering wheel, Camel smoking, breathing in fumes and the last view of what he had traveled to see.

Or, he thought, as he sucked his simmering fingers, what he had come NOT to see.

Without looking, he flipped through the several pages of his musical journal and extracted a Guns N Roses c.d. from its pocket. For today--for an undetermined amount of time--this was the only paradise city he was capable of holding onto.

Behind him he left the only evidence of his arrival and departure in the borrowed, Pure Life bottle below. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Please Make Up a Clever Name for this Recipe, I'm Too Tired

Anyone can write blogs about recipes: I, however, teach you something in the process. Unless, of course, you are completely clueless like myself and have cooking skills out the proverbial wazoo. As I made dinner Saturday night I learned more than a few things while preparing my gingery grilled flank steak with cous cous salad.

The first thing you should know is that buying organic, humanely raised animals is worth it. This is why I buy my meat at Bedford Avenue Meat Shop. You should also realize that if you don't eat beef on a regular basis it can upset your stomach in a manner which is unpleasant to others.

(rubbed with fresh ginger)

Secondly, all this cooking and baking is truly an educational experience. I feel like I am becoming the person at the family gathering who will automatically know how to make the pudding from scratch or throw together a Macgyver inspired dressing at Thanksgiving using only baking powder and the dirt from Uncle Darrell's left shoe. 

While cooking flank steak in the pan (I was only able to get a grill as of today) I found myself wondering,"What IS flank steak? Is it the side of the cow? The leg?" 

Flank steak, I discovered, is actually a cut from the abdominal muscles of the cow. It's what they use for London broil and fajitas. Now if I want to make London broil or fajitas I will know what kind of cut to buy. Of course, if my friend Chef Preston Cravey was in town, I could have just looked at his arm since he has an entire cow tattoo with all the different types of meat. 

I would now like to take the time to discuss orange zest. You can actually zest an entire orange and keep it on hand for any number of things. I would have never imagined such a thing but the rumors are true. For this recipe, the zest went in the cous cous and the orange juice was used as a coating for the steak:

(This lady far more excited about zesting than myself.)

I love this whole use-stuff-for-a-recipe-and-then-save-the-leftovers-for-something-else-so-you-don't-waste-food-and-money thing too. I even cut a few slices of orange and put it in my homemade lemonade which I am now able to make at any time because of a recipe I memorized last year.

And I've always appreciated Kroger, but we were extra pleased that we not only found the cous cous there that we couldn't find at Walmart, but also that it was wheat free for Erik. God bless Lundberg, who even provides coupons on their web site. We love their risotto as well.

We are enjoying this recipe journey. We also feel so much better that we are making local choices and investing time and money into our health.

Oh, and please make up a clever name for this recipe. Not to be redundant, but I'm far too tired. 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Fabiolous Summer Reading

When I was 14, my Aunt Martha bought me a bag of various wrapped gifts. There was a small jewelry box, Asian rings, potpourri, and a Harlequin romance novel. I can't believe mom let me keep the novel, but I read it and then stole a few of my Aunt Virginia's novels too. Then at night I would lie awake and at times cry myself to sleep thinking of stories that I could write about romance and heart ache and happily ever afters.

Then I grew up and experienced real life as we know it. I have never read a romance novel since I was a teenager...well, unless you count Lolita and I don't. I often gleefully take the opportunity to mock and humiliate people who enjoy them. I absolutely loathe Twilight. I tried to watch the movie once: when Edward started sparkling I just couldn't take it anymore.

But I've decided that maybe I am just a tad left of bitter and judgmental and need to branch out and give it a go again.

I needed a little help so I thumbed through Woman's Day hoping they wouldn't push me head over heels into the tackiest smut. I've read that Debbie Macomber is a Christian and writes cook books and Christmas stories about angels so I determined that she is a safe place to start.

I also noticed an advertisement for Susan Wiggs chronicles, so I picked up the summer edition The Summer Hideaway. 

In the mean time, please enjoy my list of romance novels I am not aware of as of yet:

1. The woman in the story is fat and the man is hot.

2. The hero and the heroine are both cheating on their spouses.

3. The beautiful heroine is interested in a heterosexual cross dresser so she can borrow his shoes.

4. The hero is a polygamist. Never mind. We have Sister Wives and that will quite do.

5. The story is about a nun and a priest who fall in love and hold hands in secret.

When I checked out all of my paper backs at the library, did I imagine the librarian disdainfully glancing at me? I wanted to inform her indignantly that the last several books I borrowed were Wuthering Heights and A Tale of Two Cities.